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New Orleans Trivia

Where is the Old Desire Neighborhood?


Hey Blake,

I heard some people talking about the "Old Desire neighborhood." Where is that?

Joyce Silverman

Dear Joyce,

  Desire, a part of the Upper 9th Ward, still exists on every list of New Orleans neighborhoods, but it has undergone changes over the past half-century. Its general boundaries, according to the City Planning Commission, are Gentilly Boulevard to the north, Florida Avenue to the south, the Industrial Canal to the east and Peoples Avenue to the west.

  A former cypress swamp, the area developed into a center for transportation, including railroad lines and the Industrial Canal, which was opened in 1923. After World War II, many African-American families purchased small lots in the area to build houses. The neighborhood also is important in music history as home to several former nightclubs, including the Hideaway Club, where producer Dave Bartholomew and Imperial Records owner Lew Chudd discovered Fats Domino in 1949.

  That club was located within the 98 acres that were cleared in 1949 to make way for the Desire Housing Project. When it opened in 1956, the 1,860-unit housing development for low-income African-Americans was one of the largest public housing sites in the country. By the 1960s, the Desire project housed more than 13,000 residents and had the greatest population density in New Orleans. In addition, many of the buildings (built on a sinking former landfill) were poorly constructed, causing living conditions to deteriorate over time. Hurricane Betsy flooded the area in 1965. In 1970, the development was the scene of an infamous standoff and shootout between New Orleans Police and an offshoot of the Black Panthers.

  The area continued to decline in the 1980s and became notorious for murders and crime. The housing project was demolished in stages, beginning in 1996. In the early 2000s, just before Hurricane Katrina, a new mixed-income neighborhood was developed on the site. Built at a cost of $80 million, it is now called The Estates.

  Two schools were built within the Desire development: Robert R. Moton and Henderson H. Dunn. George Washington Carver High School also is well-known in the Desire area, having turned out NFL great Marshall Faulk.

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